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The long Yellow Brick Road to Hollywood's new museum

The $300-million Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will need brainpower, courage and heartfelt generosity to succeed.

November 02, 2013|By Mike Boehm | Los Angeles Times
  • An architectural rendering of Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali’s design for the $300-million Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences museum they plan to build by adapting the May Company building on Wilshire Boulevard, now owned by LACMA, and expanding it to include a 1,000-seat movie theater within a large dome. The museum is scheduled to open in 2017.
An architectural rendering of Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali’s design… (AMPAS )

The organization that brings us the Oscars aims to debut a major motion-picture museum in Los Angeles about 31/2 years from now. A star attraction will be a pair of the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz."

Leonardo DiCaprio, Stephen Spielberg and former Warner Bros. executive Terry Semel teamed to buy them last year for the museum, which aims to open by mid-2017 after renovating and expanding an unused building it is leasing from the next-door Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wants its $300-million Academy Museum of Motion Pictures to be much more than a fancy repository for Hollywood memories.

Its goal is to create a respected cultural institution capable of satisfying tourists' quest for fun while giving the most fanatical film buff a sophisticated and insightful encounter with the art, history and technology of cinema.

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Dorothy's slippers can't hurt, but to earn the respect and cachet it aspires to, the Academy Museum will also need three famous intangibles the wizard bestowed on her sidekicks.

The brains to deftly balance entertainment with scholarly heft. The courage not to be manipulated by studio executives, actors or directors who might view the nonprofit museum as a tool for boosting box-office returns, gratifying egos or controlling artistic and historical interpretations that are supposed to be up to the curators. And a heart — Hollywood's collective philanthropic heart — that's eager to express itself by giving the museum the money and collection items it needs to thrive.

The academy is entering a landscape for museum exhibitions about cinema that's marked by booming growth but also by significant failures.

Since 2009, the moving-image museums in Melbourne and New York City have undergone expensive renovations or additions, and major new venues have sprouted in Toronto, Amsterdam and Shanghai.

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Recent touring exhibitions at LACMA on directors Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick give indication of an L.A. film museum's prospects. The family-friendly Burton show in 2011 was the museum's fifth-most popular attraction of the past 35 years, drawing 2,691 visitors a day. The Kubrick exhibition, which closed in July and included R-rated elements, drew 1,007 daily visitors — good but not extraordinary.

The British Film Institute, the academy's top peer in the English-speaking world, launched a Museum of the Moving Image in 1988, only to dismantle it 11 years later because of meager attendance. In L.A., the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, envisioned in the 1980s as a big attraction and economic engine for its neighborhood, failed to muster the money it needed to be a major draw. The drastically scaled-back museum closed in 2006 after an unspectacular 10-year run.

Detailed planning hasn't begun for the Academy Museum's exhibitions, said Bill Kramer, managing director of the academy's museum project.

A chief curator it aims to hire by the end of this year will play a pivotal role. The person is expected not only to be a film scholar but a leader who can define how museum departments should be structured and staffed. The job will include sifting through ideas from the academy's more than 6,000 members — film professionals whose input is being encouraged. Kramer, who came to the academy in 2012 after serving as a fundraising executive for the California Institute of the Arts and the Southern California Institute of Architecture, said the museum's exhibitions will showcase foreign, independent and experimental cinema along with Hollywood filmmaking.

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A museum director is also being sought, to be hired by late next year, when construction is expected to begin.

The 290,000-square-foot layout, designed by architects Renzo Piano and Zoltan Pali, gives an idea of its major programming components. There is just under 50,000 square feet of exhibition space — roughly the same as the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA or the Museum of Contemporary Art's downtown Geffen Contemporary building.

A 12,000-square-foot permanent exhibit called "Making Of" will include hands-on interactive stations where visitors can learn about the craft of filmmaking.

"We want to premiere new technologies," said Kramer, rather than merely duplicate what exists elsewhere.

At the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, N.Y., visitors can dub their own dialogue over famous film scenes, create animations and upload them to YouTube, or make a motion picture "flip book" of fluttering stills, starring themselves.

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